Fir Tree (The)
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FIR TREE, THE. AKA and see: "Becky Murray," "Mr. David Skene's Reell," "Up in the Air." Scottish, Canadian; Strathspey; English, Reel. England, Northumberland. Canada, Cape Breton. D Mixolydian. Standard tuning (fiddle). AB (Cumming, Gow, Jones): AAB (Vickers). This so-called 'double tonic' tune is attributed to Dunkeld fiddler-composer Niel Gow (1727-1807) in MacDonald's Skye Collection (1887), apparently based on a claim by Niel's son Nathaniel (1763-1831). However, there is no attribution to any composer in the Gow's First Collection (1784). John Glen (1891) finds it first published by Robert Bremmer (1713-89) in his Collection of Scots Reels or Country Dances (c. 1757). Bremner notes: "The Strathspey Reels are play'd much slower than the others," and Gow also directs it to be played "Slowish" in his First Collection. However, precursors to the tune are older than even Bremner. A version called "Mr. David Skene's Reell" appears in the (George) Skene Manuscript (1717).
A version appears in the 1820 music manuscript (No. 13) of Highland piper Robert Millarin the key of A major. Millar was a member of the Forfar Regiment (militia) and self-described "Piper to the Aberdeen Highland Society." The strathspey version has currency in modern times among Cape Breton fiddlers.
Source for notated version: William Vicker's 1770 music mansucript collection (Northumberland, 1770) [Seattle].
Printed sources: Bremner (Scots Reels), c. 1757; p. 38. Carlin (The Gow Collection), 1986; No. 59. Cumming (Collection of Strathspey or Old Highland Reels), 1782; No. 2, p. 1. Davie (Davie's Caledonian Repository), Aberdeen, 1829-30; p. 5. Gow (The First Collection of Niel Gow's Reels), 1784 (revised 1801); p.14. Jones [Ed.] (Complete Tutor Violin), c. 1815; p. 12. MacDonald (The Skye Collection), 1887; p. 49. Seattle (William Vickers), 1987, Part 3; No. 546.
Recorded sources: Kells KM 9514, Natalie MacMaster - "Gaelic Roots" (1997). Rounder 82161-7032-2, Bill Lamey - "From Cape Breton to Boston and Back: Classic House Sessions of Traditional Cape Breton Music 1956-1977" (2000). Rounder RDR7021, Natalie MacMaster - "A Compilation" (1998).
See also listing at:
Alan Snyder's Cape Breton Fiddle Recording Index